Restaurant Firsts

Ethiopian Cuisine Debuts
Around the World

WHEN DID AMERICAN, CANADIAN AND WORLD CITIES get their first Ethiopian (or Eritrean) restaurants? Here’s a growing list – arranged chronologically and geographically – of what opened where and when since Beyene Guililat began it all with his restaurant in 1966.

I’ve pored over many databases and will continue to add to the list, but this method has shortcomings: Some tiny enat na abat (mom ‘n’ pop) restaurants may have opened and closed so quickly that they never made their local newspapers, not all of which are digitalized anyway – and I don’t have access to every database. So I welcome additions and corrections to my culinary archaeology.

Long Beach Press-Telegram  July 21, 1966  (click to enlarge)
Announcing the first:
Long Beach Press-Telegram,
July 21, 1966 (click to read)

In some cases, I can document the existence of an early restaurant in a city but haven’t yet confirmed either the year it opened or that it was, in fact, the first. I’ll include those here and mark them with (***) to show when some cities probably had their first restaurants. The Name Meanings link takes you to another page of mine, and you can visit my Ethiopian restaurants page to find a state-by-state list of current restaurants.

The oldest Ethiopian restaurant in the United States is Blue Nile, which opened in Detroit in 1983. (Queen of Sheba in Dallas opened in 1983, closed in 2002, and reopened in 2005.) The restaurants on the list that opened before it are all closed. Some cities had restaurants that only lasted for a short while: In the risky restaurant business, places come and go. I’ve included closing dates for a few early long-lasting restaurants – and for some that disappeared in a blink.

As for the oldest Ethiopian restaurant in the world: There seems to be dueling candidates. Needless to say, it’s in Ethiopia. But is it Addis Ababa restaurant, located in (and named for) the nation’s capital, or is it the restaurant at the Itege Taitu Hotel? I can’t find a precise date for the restaurant’s opening, but a very nice documentary (in Amharic) that I found in July 2017 says it’s 100 years old. That date could be ballpark or precise – no way to know. Itege Taitu Hotel opened in 1898 on the Ethiopian calendar, which is 1904-05 on the Western calendar. I’ll keep digging to confirm the date of the restaurant’s opening. The documentary offers a glimpse inside the place today along with historic photos of its past. So even if you don’t understand Amharic, it’s worth watching.

The oldest restaurant in the world outside of Ethiopia seems to be Africa, which opened in Rome in 1975. If there’s an older one, I’ve yet to find any trace of it. The restaurant bills itself today as Ethiopian-Eritrean, but it opened as an Eritrean restaurant, which makes sense: From 1888 to 1941, Eritrea was an Italian colony, and cultural exchanges went both ways. And in 2014, the restaurant Ketfò in Rome claimed to have launched the first Ethiopian food truck in Europe.

And what to make of this odd squib that appeared in the June 26, 1931, issue of the venerable Life magazine: “CHICAGO, June 17 – Tony Villettina, a Siamese connected with the beer handling mob of the lower South Side, was shot and killed as he emerged from the Café La Bella della Mussolini, an Ethiopian restaurant, this morning.” It’s highly unlikely that Chicago had an Ethiopian restaurant in 1931. In fact, a closer look at the item reveals it to be a satirical riff on Italian gangsters (always a source of rousing humor).

So here’s the list of restaurant firsts. We’ll start with the United States and then move on to Canada and the rest of the world.

The 1960s: Beyene Guililat’s Legacy
CityYearRestaurant Name
Long Beach, Calif.1966Ethiopian Restaurant (first in the nation)
San Diego, Calif.1969Ethiopian Restaurant (same owner as above)
The 1970s: From Coast to Coast
CityYearRestaurant Name
Miami, Fla.1972Ethiopian Lair
Washington, D.C.1978Mamma Desta
New York, N.Y.1979Sheba (see the menu)
Los Angeles, Calif.1979Walia
The 1980s: Big Cities, Small Towns
CityYearRestaurant Name
Oakland, Calif.1980Blue Nile
Boston, Mass.1981Lalibela
Berkeley, Calif.1982Blue Nile (same owner as Oakland)
Seattle, Wash.1982Kokeb (closed in 2012)
Houston, Texas1982Queen of Sheba
Detroit, Mich.1983Blue Nile (nation’s oldest)
Dallas, Texas1983Queen of Sheba
(closed in 2002, reopened in 2005)
Portland, Ore.1983Jarra’s (closed in 2014)
Atlanta, Ga.1983Blue Nile
Culver City, Calif.1983Ghion
Chicago, Ill.1984Mama Desta’s Red Sea (closed in 2009)
Walla Walla, Wash.1984Debeb’s
Bloomington, Ind.1984Ashenda’s
Philadelphia, Pa.1984Nyala
Baltimore, Md.1985Queen of Sheba
St. Paul, Minn.1985Harar***
Minneapolis, Minn.1985Odaa***
St. Louis, Mo.1985Red Sea (Eritrean)
Santa Monica, Calif.1985Marathon
San Jose, Calif.1986Red Sea (Eritrean)
San Francisco, Calif.1986Rasselas
Tampa, Fla.1987Nile
West Chester, Pa.1988Court House II
Denver, Colo.1989Ethiopian Restaurant
Boulder, Colo.1989Ras Kassa’s
The 1990s: Middle Americas
CityYearRestaurant Name
St. Petersburg, Fla.1990Ghion
Syracuse, N.Y.1990Red Sea
Lancaster, Pa.1991Blue Nile
Austin, Texas1991The Ethiopian Restaurant
Dayton, Ohio1991Blue Nile
Madison, Wisc.1992Horn of Africa (Eritrean)
Buraka (food cart, later a restaurant)
Cleveland, Ohio1992Empress Taytu
New Haven, Conn.1992Caffé Adulis (Eritrean)
Columbus, Ohio1993A&B Carryout
Santa Ana, Calif.1993Ras Dashen
Las Vegas, Nev.1993Red Sea (Eritrean)
Tucson, Ariz.1994Zemam’s
Ligonier, Ind.1994Daniel’s Ligonier Café
(Weekends only, owner is Ethiopian)
Durham, N.C.1994Blue Nile
Louisville, Ky.1994Café Kilimanjaro
(pan-African, Ethiopian owner)
Indianapolis, Ind.1995Queen of Sheba
Kansas City, Kan.1995Martha’s Café
Kansas City, Mo.1995Blue Nile Café
Richmond, Va.1995Ye Ethiopia Injera
New Brunswick, N.J.1996Makeda
East Lansing, Mich.1996Altu’s
Sandusky, Ohio1996Queen of Sheba (closed within a year)
Nashville, Tenn.1996Bella Pizza
(Ethiopian owner, cuisine on weekends only)
Hartford, Conn.1997Wolde’s
Sioux Falls, S.D.1997Blue Nile
Orlando, Fla.1997Sabina
Sacramento, Calif.1997Queen Sheba
Phoenix, Ariz.1997Café Lalibela
Charlotte, N.C.1999Red Sea (Eritrean)
The 21st Century Begins:
Mesob Across America
CityYearRestaurant Name
Rochester, N.Y.2000Abyssinia***
Grand Rapid, Mich.2000Little Africa (originally Teshlou’s Imports)
North Miami Beach, Fla.2000A Taste of Ethiopia
Cincinnati, Ohio2000Addis Zemen
Memphis, Tenn.2000 Abyssinia
Loma Linda, Calif.2001Andrew’s Ethiopian and Italian Cuisine
Raleigh, N.C.2001Abyssinia
New Orleans, La.2001Red Sea (originally Warehouse Café)
Stamford, Conn.2001Teff (Eritrean)
(Took this name in 2015; began as a deli in 2001, serving the cuisine three days a week)
Chapel Hill, N.C.2002Queen of Sheba
Milwaukee, Wis.2002Lula’s Café
(Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali cuisine)
Jacksonville, Fla.2003Queen of Sheba
Montclair, N.J.2003Mesob
Salt Lake City, Utah2004African Restaurant
Frederick, Md.2004Tajitu
Pittsburgh, Pa.2004Abay
Hampton, Va.2004Bahir Dar
Omaha, Neb.2004International Café (Somali and Ethiopian)
Portland, Maine2004Asmara (Eritrean)
Harrisonburg, Va.2004Blue Nile
(began as catering business in 1993)
Lexington, Ky.2005Royal Fasica Christine
Bellingham, Wash2005Ambo
(food booth first, restaurant in 2014)
Sarasota, Fla.2005Fly
York, Pa.2005Sequina Café
Mankato, Minn.2005Nile Café
Lawrence, Kan.2005Addis Ababa
Worthington, Minn.2006Queen Sheba
Santa Rosa, Calif.2006Santa Trata (Eritrean)
Iowa City, Iowa2006David’s Place
West Palm Beach, Fla.2006Queen of Sheeba
(Takeout opened in 2006, restaurant in 2015)
Oklahoma City, Okla.2006Queen of Sheba
Fairbanks, Alaska2007Tekul (closed that year)
Reno, Nev.2007Zagol
Fresno, Calif.2007Lucy’s Lair
Blacksburg, Va.2007Excellent Table
Fort Wayne, Ind.2008Ethiopian Restaurant
Charlottesville, Va.2008Mesob
Myrtle Beach, S.C.2008Redi-Et
(catering only, restaurant closed in 2017)
Asheville, N.C.2008Abaye Cuisine
(catering and pop-up restaurant)
Burlington, Vt.2009¡Duino! (Duende)
(Tuesday night Ethiopian menu)
The 21st Century Continues: The New Chinese?
CityYearRestaurant Name
Colorado Spring, Colo.2010Uchenna
Davis, Calif.2010Queen Sheba
Spokane, Wash.2010Queen of Sheba
Mt. Kisco, N.Y.2010Lalibela
Lincoln, Neb.2010Ajora Falls (originally African Restaurant)
Albuquerque, N.M.2010Damara (served only on Saturdays)
Fairfield, Iowa2010Addis
(food booth first, restaurant in 2014)
Honolulu, Hawaii2011Addis Ababa (closed that year)
Providence, R.I.2011Abyssinia
Jackson, Miss.2011Abeba
Knoxville, Tenn.2011Gosh
Buffalo, N.Y.2012Lucy
Rochester, Minn.2012Nile
Norristown, Pa.2013Almaz
Greensboro, S.C.2013Taste of Ethiopia
Eureka, Calif.2013Ethiopian International Café
Virginia Beach, Va.2013A&N Café (now called Mesob Café)
Columbia, S.C.2013Salina Café
Allentown, Pa.2013Mariam’s
Charleston, S.C.2013Ethiopian Taste (closed a year later)
Fort Worth, Texas2014Samson’s Market and Bistro
San Antonio, Texas2014Berbere (catering service, festival booths)
Ottumwa, Iowa2014Safari
Des Moines, Iowa2014International African Cuisine
Fargo, N.D.2014Habesha
Boise, Idaho2014Kibrom’s
East Aurora, N.Y.2014Thea’s
Harrisburg, Pa.2014Cafe D’Afric (closed in 2016)
Eugene, Ore.2015Addis
Athens, Ga.2015Mannaweenta (Eritrean)
Tulsa, Okla.2015Eritrean and Ethiopian Café
Ithaca, N.Y.2015Hawi
Albany, N.Y.2015Umana (Afro-Caribbean international menu, Ethiopian platter on Fridays and Saturdays)
Santa Fe, N.M.2015Café Roha
Cordova, Tenn.2015Ethiopian Restaurant & Coffee
Lawrenceville, Ga.2016Sodere Ethio-American Cuisine
Davenport, Iowa2016Taste of Ethiopia
Victorville, Calif.2016Ribka
Birmingham, Ala.2016Ghion Cultural Hall
Johnson City, Tenn.2017Green Olive
Fayetteville, Ga.2018Mulu’s Ethiopian Kitchen
North Bergen, N.J.2018Ghenet Hudson
Broken Arrow, Okla.2018Lalibela
Anchorage, Alaska2018Queen of Sheba
Manchester, Conn.2018Walia
Northern Exposure: Mesob Across Canada
CityYearRestaurant Name
Toronto, Ontario1983Queen of Sheba (closed in 2013)
Montréal, Quebec1983Addis
Vancouver, British Columbia1988Nyala (opened as Yia-Sou)
Winnipeg, Manitoba1990Messob
Ottawa, Ontario1992Addis Café
Calgary, Alberta1993Teff
Hamilton, Ontario1993Lion of Judah
Windsor, Ontario1994Queen of Sheba
Edmonton, Alberta1994Fassil (moved to Calgary in 2007)
Kitchener, Ontario1996A M Africa (Eritrean)
London, Ontario1996Enat
Halifax, Nova Scotia2003Addis Ababa
Regina, Saskatchewan2003Selam
Victoria, British Columbia2005Blue Nile (Eritrean)
Fredericton, New Brunswick2012Hana
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories2014Zehabesha
Brandon, Manitoba2015Tana
St. John’s,
Newfoundland and Labrador
2015Gursha
(at St. John’s Farmer’s Market)
Australasian Offerings: Mesob Down Under
CityYearRestaurant Name
Melbourne1988Nyala (East African)
Mount Isa1994Abyssinia
Canberra2002Ethiopia Down Under
Perth2003Ethiopian Café and Artifacts
Brisbane2004Mu’ooz (Eritrean)
Adelaide2006Addis Ababa Café
Hobart (Tasmania)2008Axum
Auckland (New Zealand)2012Café Abyssinia
Sydney2012Jambo Jambo
Coffs Harbour2013Mana Chita
Wellington (New Zealand)2014The Meeting Tree
Newcastle2014Habesha
Ballarat2014Café Merkama
Continental Cuisine: Mesob Across Europe
CityYearRestaurant Name
Rome1975Africa*** (Eritrean)
Milan1978Da Samson (Eritrean)
Athens1970s[ Name and date unknown ]
London1983Abyssinia
Paris1983Entoto
Karlsruhe (Germany)1988Mogogo (Eritrean)
(originally Restaurant Afrika)
Oslo1990Exodus***
Bologna1990Ristorante Africano (Eritrean)
Naples1992Red Sea (Eritrean)
Amsterdam1992Lalibela
Eindhoven (Netherlands)1992Ethiopisch Restaurant
The Hague1996Mogogo (Eritrean)
Budapest1996Lalibela
(began as a catering service)
Darmstadt (Germany)1996African Safari
Copenhagen1999Mesob
Moscow1999Addis Abeba (originally Bungalow Bar)
Hamburg1999Ethio
Cologne1999Selam
Berlin2000Bejte***
Leiden (Netherlands)2000Djebena (Eritrean)
Stockholm2002Abyssinia
Ingolstadt (Germany)2003Äthiopisches Restaurant
Toulon (France)2005Rastafari
Lausanne (Switzerland)2005Abyssinia
Sheffield (England)2005Ethio Cubano
Barcelona2006Abissinia
Reading (England)2006Tutu’s Ethiopian Table
Heidelberg2006Abyssinia
Düsseldorf2006Tiru
Lyon (France)2006Messob
Leeds (England)2007Merkato
Leuven (Belgium)2007House of Lalibela
Brussels2007Kokob
Antwerp2007Kokob
Manchester2007Habesha
Prague2008Ethiopia Café
Kassel (Germany)2009Abessina (Eritrean)
Madrid2009Mesob (now called Habesha)
Glasgow2010Queen of Sheba
Metz (France)2010 Ô Paradis éthiopien
Marseille (France)2010 La Reine de Saba
Villeurbanne (France)2010Walya
Nice (France)2011Le Soleil d’Asmara
Vienna2011Ethiopian Restaurant
Liverpool2011Selam Café (Eritrean)
Birmingham2011Blue Nile
Flúðir (Iceland)2011Minilik
Bern (Switzerland)2011Injera
Vigo (Spain)2011Habesha
San Leo (Italy)2012Ketfò
Helsinki2012Kuningatar Saba (Queen Sheba)
Heiderscheid (Luxembourg)2012Jimmy
Nottingham2012Habesha
Lille (France)2013Habesha
Riccione (Italy)2013Addis
Göttingen (Germany)2013Abessina
Warsaw2013Abyssinia
(catering company first, restaurant in 2015)
Reykjavik2014Teni
Mainz (Germany)2014Madiba Afrika
Neuchâtel (Switzerland)2014Abyssinia
Gent (Belgium)2015Muday
Caen (France)2015L’Abyssin
Kiev2015Sarman
(Ethiopian, Georgian, Russian, European cuisine)
Brighton (England)2016Abyssinia
Las Palmas, Canary Islands (Spain)2016Etiopica Afrika
Amiens (France)2016Abyssinia
Auxerre (France)2016Wollo
Bordeaux (France)2016 Adey Abeba
Aix-en-Provence (France)2017 Chez Ama
Hanover (Germany)2017Hawashait
Clermont-Ferrand (France)2017Lalibela
Heswall (England)2017Abyssinia Kitchen
Strasbourg (France)2017Abyssinia
Rennes (France)2018 Restaurant Ethiopien
Amersfoort, Netherlands2019Awaze
Dublin2019Gursha (Friday/Saturday pop-up)
Ulm, Germany2020Abyssinia
International Cuisine:
Mesob Around the World
CityYearRestaurant Name
Harare, Zimbabwe1986***Timbuctoo (Ethiopian, West African, Moroccan)
Tokyo1990Queen Sheba
Kingston (Jamaica)1992Queen of Sheba***
(inside the Bob Marley Museum)
Jerusalem1992Ethiopian Restaurant***
Kampala1992Ethiopian Village***
Accra1994Lalibela***
Kigali (Rwanda)1997Addis***
Dar es Salaam1998Addis in Dar***
Arusha (Tanzania)1999Spices and Herbs***
Lusaka (Zambia)2000Green Ethiopian Restaurant***
Dubai, UAR2000Al Habasha
Osaka2001Axum
Windhoek (Namibia)2001Abyssinia***
Cairo2003Axum***
Bangkok2003Abyssinia Café
Manila2005Ziggurat***
(trans-national cuisines including Ethiopian)
Sana’a (Yemen)2006Ethiopian Restaurant***
Dakar2006Lalibela***
Cape Town2007Addis in Cape
Juba (South Sudan)2007Kush
Hawally (Kuwait)2007Al Habesha
Manama (Bahrain)2008Millennium (in Concorde Hotel)
Beijing2008Ras
Abu Dhabi, UAR2008Al Habasha (same owner as Dubai)
Fukuoka (Japan)2008Fasika
Seoul2009Club Zion
Zanzibar City (Tanzania)2011Abyssinian Maritim
Istanbul2012Habesha
Doha (Qatar)2012Mesob Habesha
Harare (Zimbabwe)2012Queen Makeda***
New Delhi2013Blue Nile (at the Ethiopian Cultural Center)
Abuja (Nigeria)2013Saba
Ħamrun (Malta)2013Selam East African Bar (Eritrean)
Shanghai2013Eat Ethio (pop-up restaurant)
Amman (Jordan)2013Abyssinia
Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire) 2013Gursha
(began as a pop-up)
Durban (South Africa)2013Café Abyssinia
Hong Kong2014Eat Ethio (pop-up restaurant)
Guangzhou (Canton), China2014Abyssinia
Msida (Malta)2015One Love African Restaurant
Chennai, India2016Abyssinian
Port Elizabeth (South Africa)2016Messer
Palm Jumeirah, UAR2016Gursha
Phnom Penh2017Sara
Malabo, Equitorial Guinea2018Lucy
Juhu (Mumbai), India2019Maharsh
Pune, India2019Abyssinia

Harry Kloman
University of Pittsburgh (302)

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